Natalie Savelyeva

Flow of Bhava - Performace by Smt. Leela Samson at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on December 31, 2012

This performance by Smt. Leela Samson took place at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on December 31, 2012. I would like to outline just one shade of this wonderful kutcheri, which is how the artist could rout emotions of the audience, like wind carefully carries the clouds across the sky.

She started with sloka of Sankaracharya on Siva, set in Hamsadhvani ragam. In dimed light, following resounding murmur of mridangam. Audience was hidden in dark room of the hall, watching unrolling of the sloka as if from aside. The dancer was concentrated on her mental image of Lord Siva, and communicated to him, bit by bit filling the stage with subtle feeling of His presence.

The second item was padam of Kshetrayya in raga Saranga. The heroine complains about infidelity of her beloved, Venu Gopala. She tells as jealous neighbors interfered into their relationships and confused his mind with gossips and wrong suggestions. They seduced him to go into house of another woman, beautiful and attractive… so he left the heroine alone with her memories and thoughts. She remembers how they used to be together, since very young age… how he enjoyed her in love play… how many dearest moments they cherished… how much those days contrast her present state… she is alone, having no power for anger or protest… her friends left her, so nobody is there to listen to her complaints… she is paralyzed, as if her life itself left her on roadside… as if day turned into night…

The light was dim and by the end of padam, when the heroine leaves the stage, all lights were off. Sadness and worried, uncertain pain, pulsing feeling of regret I felt, as reminders of the losses which we all know the taste of.

The next item was javali in ragam Todi. The situation was very similar to the story described in the previous padam, Virakhot Khandita Nayika (the heroine suffering of separation from and infidelity of her hero), expresses her inner anguish after being left by her beloved. Javali usually is playful, sarcastic or humorous item. But interpretation of Sahityam matters and could change presentation totally, as we saw it on the stage. This javali, featuring a bit faster tempo then previous padam and set to Todi (expressive, very deep emotional raga, very potent of pathetic and dramatic moods), was like a flash of inner contempt, anguish of the heroine. Her feelings were carried out by the flow of strong emotion evoked by love, attachment, frustrated and deprived from unity and fulfillment. The mood was close to tragic. I felt scared and even shocked by her open and powerful portrayal of the situation and her reaction to it. Light was sharp, focused on the heroine, following her all over the stage, as she moved in sharp diagonals, from one corner to another and back to center. This javali was like a flash of lighting, stunning and overwhelming.

The next item was famous padam Dari joochu chunnadi in Sankarabharanam by Sabhapati Ayyar. This beautiful composition tells the story of young maiden. She is waiting for her beloved, but having no idea of love game, she is shy to show her feelings and open her heart. Only her most intimate, elder maiden-friend noticed all the signs and read unspoken desire hidden in her heart. Sakhi went to Krishna (hero) to ask if he is aware of deep love of the heroine? She describes how the heroine spends her time waiting for him every moment, looking out, her restless sharp and quick eyes being always alert, watching the road, the river… as if she is afraid to miss the very first sight of his approaching siluette… This padam filled the stage with tenderness and shining hope! The first springs of the first innocent love, supported and caressed by tender and soft hand of the friend… what a better image we could see? This padam, as first rays of morning sun waking up new day, evoked hope and anticipation of something very good!

The new day came and new even came! The next item was Babhuva (ragam Bibhas, Adi talam), the item describing the story from Kumarasambhava by Kalidasa. Lord Siva, after taking the blessings of seven mothers of the Universe, is getting ready for his marriage to Parvati. He starts in procession accompanied with Nindi and all his attendants in all the splendor possible. The music for this item was composed by Sri Madhup Mudgal. Choreographed by Smt. Leela Samson, this item is definitely her signature in dance. Nritta set to jathis compete in brightness with depiction of Lord Siva himself. This item was very energizing, filling the space with wonder and admiration.

The next item was Ashtapadi from nine sarga of Geeta Govinda. Festivity of soul and ears, music of Odissi, sung by Sri Srikant with accompaniment of Bansuri flute and delicate mridangam of Sri Babu, was the vehicle of Abhinaya set in Bharatanatyam style. Two great traditions do not interfere, but enrich, equalize and reinforce each other! All enchanting grace of Odissi, precision and power of Bharatanatyam came together in this Ashtapadi.

Sakhi addresses Radha, who is being in despair for a long time. Sakhi asks her, "what is the use of sitting and crying alone? What is the use of being so stubborn? All the maidens round ridicule you for sitting and shading tears instead of dressing up and going out for a date with Krisna!" Sakhi describes how forlorn he is. How he is roaming to and fro, lost in remorse and confusion. She advises Radha to change her mind, to go and talk to him. She pushes her delicately to him, using all tender and wise words possible.

This item evoked so strong feeling of sympathy, love, and care! I do not know what exactly, either the great music of Odissi or extreme delicacy and charm of the style the Abhinaya was presented in, either the situation and magic of Geeta Govinda or everything together created this atmosphere of … really heart-moving empathy and love. This was the taste of this item.

Concluding item was tillana in raga Revati set to Misra capu talam, the composition of Lalgudi Jayaraman. I feel Revati as very moving raga, real "rakti". Enough to remind Srihari Janardhana or Bho shambho, and image of this powerful and deep raga shines from emotional memory as lighthouse in darkness. I would say this tillana was triumphant in mood. Like fortissimo cadence in concerts of Mozart. It gave good charge for the previous impressions. This charge made the whole program imprinted in emotional memory.

That is what I wanted to say about this program. My impression of the flow of Bhava, taking spectator from abstract experiences of cosmic , philosophical aspects of existence, to Earth, where suffer and despair gives way to new hope, and dark night turns into bright day, and glory and splendor of festivals are neighbors with small secrets shred between the two, and gossips fly away like flock of crows leaving space for kingfisher of good advice from close friend.

I would say this program was life-experience. Dance requires a lot of effort, power, patience, and faith. But resulting effect is purifying, heart-opening, uplifting experience the audience can enjoy and keep in heart and mind for whole life. If God sees our life and feelings as we show in dance, no wonder that He loves us so much!

As Michelangelo among the sculptors, is she among the choreographers,

As Raphael among the artists, is she among the dancers…

With love and gratitude to Leela Samson.

(Dec 31 2012, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai)